Where the Young Men Go
A window to conscription in South Korea
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As a college student studying in Korea, one would start noticing a frightening disappearance of male classmates when they become sophomores and juniors. In the name of protecting the country, young men are stripped of their civilian clothes and put into uniform. October 1st is Armed Forces Day in Korea, a day to pay tribute to those in the armed forces. In South Korea, more than 230,000 young men from 18 to 28 join the military each year.
When a Korean male citizen turns 18 years old, he gets his first draft letter from the military. Usually between the age of 19 and 20, one is required to undergo physical examination to determine whether one is suitable for military service. Once they are deemed eligible, one can choose from which armed forces they would like to serve in and can either enlist to be designated randomly for open spots or apply for specific jobs within the military based on one’s credentials.
One joins the military by first entering a training center. A similar training period is shared by all armed forces, but the following content relates to the Repuplic of Korea Army. For those living near Hanyang University or Seoul who enlist in the army, one would most likely go to the one in Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do Province. On the day of their enlistment, one would say their last goodbyes to their families before being herded off with new recruits. They spend five weeks in the training camp, and during this period, cell phone use is prohibited. The next two days are filled with medical checkups and vaccination. Recruits are also supplied with gear and clothes that they will be using throughout their service. When all is done and given, the real training starts.
Trainees are soon given a rifle that they will learn to shoot, dismantle, clean and reassemble. They learn to uphold strict military standards, nothing done without permission and to live by a top-down command. Training includes individual combat, grenade throwing, experiencing tear gas, first-aid, surveillance, close-order drills (formal movements and formations used in military marching), and a final 20-kilometer march in full gear amounting to 44 pounds. Daily activities start at 6:30am, and soldiers are allowed to sleep at 10pm. Weekends are spent laundering clothes, cleaning the base, and preparing for the following week with some time to write letters and read books. On Sundays, soldiers can participate in religious activities at the churches and temples within the base.
After basic military training is finished, soldiers spend an afternoon with their families. This is when they are notified where they will be dispatched. Most people prefer being close to home, and most dread being sent to the front lines of Gangwon. Some soldiers who will become mechanics, drivers, and communications personnel will usually receive additional training for their job. The next day, soldiers are herded into trains and buses to their next stop.
For those who go to their designated bases, soldiers are soon given a job to do based on job openings. For most, the remainder of their service is spent at this base doing the same job. Although military life varies depending on what kind of job and specialized base one is at, life in the military is similar. Soldiers are required to refrain from expressing their political views and participating in political movements. They are also required to stay physically fit, as they will be tested in order to be promoted. One starts out as a private and serves as private first class for two months, corporal for six months, and sergeant for the remainder of their service. This period varies on whether one can pass periodical physical tests and can memorize all duties, drills and training they receive, with the test varying from a written, oral, or physical form.
Monthly wages are given to these soldiers as well, which varies based on their rank. One can receive from 306,100 won ($256) to 405,700 won as of 2019. Soldiers are also given 28 days leave throughout their service to use as they want. They are also given 10 days to use as day-leave or overnight leave that can be used on weekends or national holidays. Other than this, the only way a soldier can leave the base is if duty calls, are awarded a leave for merit, or are sick and in need of medical attention outside the base.
After one's service
Although a soldier regains their civilian status after completing their military service, they are still designated as reserve forces for eight years and have to participate in an annual military training session for six of those years. Then, they are designated to the Civil Defense Corps and will participate in annual education sessions and training until they are 40 years old.
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, both Koreas have been in a stalemate. As soldiers are continuously guarding the border and training for the worst, South Korea's security is striving to be ensured.
Jung Myung-suk firstname.lastname@example.org
(Thumbnail Photo courtesy of edaily)
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